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Here's the Secret to Having Your Favorite National Park All to Yourself

By Jimmie Lin

Broadcasting stunning landscapes and picturesque wildlife, nature-focused media outlets and many of today’s social media platforms grip our attention year after year, nurturing our desire to experience beautiful destinations and the wildlife they are home to. But we’re commonly drawn to the peacefulness associated with these spotlighted locations, and we often forget just how popular these places are.

After a few trips across the continental United States to visit some of the most scenic and well-known national parks, you’ll quickly notice the large crowds that trek from lookout point to lookout point and ultimately park to park. Though the views remain spectacular and the experiences unforgettable, the lack of peace and quiet becomes apparent.

On the bright side, there is still hope! You may not have exclusive access to walk through these national parks by yourself, but there are steps you can take before visiting which will minimize crowds and allow you to enjoy the relaxing sounds of nature.

A camper van by a mountain with a woman outside

Time of Year

When planning your national park adventure, it’s important to consider the time of year you want to visit. Typically, the tourist “peak season” extends over the summer months—June through August. Though this may be when you’re available to take time off—it’s also when most other travelers will look to vacation. So, consider the “off-season.” Depending on your availability, comfort in colder environments, and access to desired activities, visiting the more popular national parks during the off-season may be an option if you want to minimize the crowds surrounding you at every stop.

Time of Day

Since vacation time can be limited, you might be forced to visit these national wonders during peak season. Although this limits the chances of guaranteed fewer crowds, there are still factors you can control. Consider the time of day you’re visiting top locations within the park. Do you want to beat the crowds by waking up early and arriving before most? Or by staying later than other visitors? From experience, I find that arriving as early as possible (often before the sun rises) to the most popular viewpoints or trails provides a better chance at seeing it with fewer visitors. Still, both are viable options and will ensure fewer people than if you were to arrive during the day. 

A camper van by a mountain with a woman outside

Landmarks within the Park

A simple but effective tactic to avoid crowds is to seek out the viewpoints in the park that may be less popular or well-known. Sometimes these views provide a unique perspective of landscapes and wildlife you didn’t even expect! This is a good option for those avoiding large groups trying to capture the most well-known landmarks for their Instagram posts.

Transportation and Accommodation

Whether you're arriving around sunrise or sunset, a good tip is to preplan your transportation between the park and your nightly accommodation. The last thing you want is to reach your destination later than planned because the drive was longer than expected or find the park’s entrance gates are not yet open for the morning.

It is equally problematic to get stuck in the park after the buses stop running for the day if you had planned to stay at an accommodation outside the park. Depending on your plans, you may want to consider camping within the national park if you’re able.

Family in front of house

Selecting a Park

To no one’s surprise, not all parks are created equal. Though you may want to spend your summer vacation at Yosemite National Park in August, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll see crowds wherever you go during all hours of the day. You may have a better chance at achieving that “empty park” feel if you instead choose to take on Great Sand Dunes National Park—or another smaller and lesser-known national park. It might not be the park you saw last week on Instagram, but it’ll definitely give you some jaw-dropping views.

Woman in back of van drinking coffee

Having a Plan

It all comes down to preparation. Come in with a game plan and leave with some fantastic photos and memories you will never forget. Planning your visit will eliminate all the hassle and frustration that comes with avoiding vastly crowded landmarks and will smooth out your visit—giving you a good idea of what to expect before you even enter the park gates. Schedule your arrival, departures, visiting locations, and transportation for the most enjoyable experience in some of the world's most stunning places.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author of this article and may not reflect the view of AAA—The Auto Club Group. For more information about insurance with AAA, please visit AAA.com/AutoInsurance

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